Sunday, 30 April 2017

Film Review: "Get Out" (2017).

"Just because you're invited, doesn't mean you're welcome." This is Get Out. This American comedy horror film written, produced and directed by Jordan Peele, in his directorial debut. The film follows Chris and his girlfriend, Rose, who have now reached the meet-the-parents milestone of dating, she invites him for a weekend getaway upstate with her family. At first, Chris reads the family's overly accommodating behaviour as nervous attempts to deal with their daughter's interracial relationship, but as the weekend progresses, a series of increasingly disturbing discoveries lead him to a truth that he never could have imagined. 

The film is the directorial debut of Jordan Peele, and marks a genre shift for him, as he has traditionally worked in comedy, although he has stated that he had been wanting to make a horror film for a while. He stated that the genres were similar in that "so much of it is pacing, so much of it reveals", noting that he considers that comedy gave him "something of a training" for the film. Peele first got the idea during 2008 Democratic primary discussions about whether an African American or a woman was more deserving of the presidency. Peele explained that he wrote the screenplay during Obama’s first term, when racism was believed to be a thing of the past. He thought there wouldn’t be much interest for his movie in such an optimistic climate, so he wrote it mainly for himself. But with the increasing discussion regarding violence against African-American and the coming of the Black Lives Matter movement in later years, he knew the time was right to make the movie. This idea then evolved when he had a conversation with Eddie Murphy, during a stand-up comedy show, about Murphy going to meet his Caucasian girlfriend's parents. Peele even originally considered Murphy to play the lead role before it was decided Murphy was too old for the role. He then was inspired by Night of the Living Dead (1968) and The Stepford Wives (1975). Peele later explained that the latter film is "a horror movie but has a satirical premise." As the film deals with racism, Peele has stated that the story is "very personal", although he noted that "it quickly veers off from anything autobiographical." Prior to the film’s release, Peele was worried about its chances of success, in an interview with Los Angeles Times, "I thought, ‘What if white people don’t want to come see the movie because they’re afraid of being villiainized with black people in the crowd? What if black people don’t want to see the movie because they don’t want to sit next to a white person while a black person is being victimized on-screen?'" However, Peele noted that much of his fear was due to "the darkness of my imagination." By February 2016, Daniel Kaluuya, Allison Williams, Lil Rel Howery, Bradley Whitford, Caleb Landry Jones, Stephen Root and Catherine Keener were cast. Principal photography on the film began in February and wrapped in March on a twenty eight day shooting schedule. Locations included Fairhope and Mobile, Alabama. Originally, the film was supposed to shoot in Los Angeles, California. However, due to budget cuts, the production was ultimately forced to decide upon Alabama as the last-minute decision. In an interview, Peele explained: "We were going to shoot this movie here in Los Angeles until about a month before we were set to shoot, and then I got a call saying we had to figure out somplace else for tax reasons. [It was a] gigantic curveball, and a real lesson that sometimes blessings come in strange packages. Because I think the movie is what it’s meant to be. I think it might be a better movie than we would’ve done here in LA. Also just a big lesson that you can get past the insurmountable." 

The film stars Kaluuya, Williams, Howery, Whitford, Landry Jones, Root and Keener. The cast gave terrific performances. The cast have absorbed enough TV, or have such an instinctive feeling for those racially profiled victims and the West Wing liberals, that they manage all by themselves to bring a certain ambivalent, helpless and comically twisted edge to the film's message about African-American people in a White dominated America.

Get Out is one of the most disturbing movies ever made – and when you leave the theatre you may wish you could forget the whole experience. The film is both terrifying and smart, featuring a highly original script. The film’s basic premise is terrifying, but it is the film’s execution that makes it all the more horrifying. Jordan Peele’s remarkable debut, made on a surprisingly low budget, about an African American man visiting his Caucassion girlfriend’s family in the outskirts, deflates all genre clichés. Rare is the movie where the last half hour surprises you just as much as the first, and in ways you were not expecting. The movie has ideas enough for a half a dozen films, but Peele and his cast handle them so surely that we’ve never felt hard-pressed; we’re entrhralled by one development after the next. The film maintains a satisfying level of suspense, and if nothing else beats the stuffing out of the lame horror films in theatres this year so far. It is a reflection on a society that may be liberal, but it is doing more harm than good just like their conservative counterparts. It is critical of the liberal racism as a petri dish where conservative racism are cultivated and preserved. Kaluuya's increasingly frantic but reliably strong-willed performance makes him an ideal subject as an everyday African-American in a White dominated microcosm of America. It is realistic horror at its best - truly creepy. Absolutely one of the most excitingly films of the year, and of the decade.

Simon says Get Out receives:

Concert Review: "Hans Zimmer Revealed" (2017).

"Confession time!!! The mere idea of playing a Live Tour terrifies me beyond belief... A number of people used to ask me why I had never done a full tour - and the honest truth was because of stage fright. As I look out from the stage at everybody, I still fell like I am standing stark naked under a spotlight, on the very coldest night of the year... I am vulnerable. I am petrified... but you cannot have fear rule your life, or indeed dictate or prevent your actions. Just like anyone else I have to shake it off, look you in the eyes, and get on with it." Mr. Zimmer has certainly done that and beyond with his spectacular Hans Zimmer Revealed (2017) concert. I was honoured to attend the concert and meet Mr. Zimmer himself. I also got to take a photo with the legend and get a concert programme personally signed by him.

Every aspect of the event was worth every penny and second as it packed more than enough entertainment value to live up to its ambition. Out of all the concerts I have attended, Mr. Zimmer and his incredible ensemble have given me the greatest concert experience I have ever witnessed. It is the greatest film concert ever witnessed – and maybe the best film concert, period. It was pure film nirvana. The concert was a masterful one, one that will appeal to both movie lovers and new fans alike. It's obvious, but the concert gives us Hans Zimmer in a fresh way. The concert reinvigorates an unappreciated genre with an extraordinary touch.

For the concert, Mr. Zimmer remarked: "Music has the power to move people, to affect them in a way that is visceral. It can transcend politics, bring cultures together, and inspire people to learn and take action. If my musical scores can contribute in some way to effecting change, I will have accomplished an important personal goal." As well as "I want everything I do to be about love. We live in a day of instant communication. I get to see and read from people whose hearts I touch through music - and that is my greatest joy." This concert does indeed delivers a close-up of Mr. Zimmer and his ensemble doing something they clearly love. Mr. Zimmer and his ensemble are the kind of band that prove even an average performance by them isn't boring. "Creating breakthrough music is about collaboration. It's about hearing others and developing a sound that tells tells the story of many and expresses the emotions of each one of us." Each of Mr. Zimmer's ensemble has done exactly that. Each brought their unique sounds to the show. Which includes the talents of Nick Glennie-Smith, Yolanda Charles, Aicha Djidelli, Pedro Eustache, Guthrie Govan, Tina Guo, Gary Kettel, Lebo M, Holly Madge, Nile Marr, Steve Mazzaro, Andy Page, Andy Pask, Satnam Singh Ramgotra, Refi, Molly Rogers, Czarina Russell, Nathan Stornetta and Leah Zeger. Mr. Zimmer commented that "Not all films we score are recorded with full orchestras; often, as in the case of 12 Years a Slave, the music involves an intimate group of musicians in a small room creating the score in an organic, natural way..." And boy was I able to sense the natural camaraderie amongst all of them. Each may have blown us away with their amazing solos, but their power could not be matched when they played together.

Mr. Zimmer's musical highlights - Driving Miss DaisyCrimson TideGladiatorThe Da Vinci CodeThe Lion KingTrue RomanceRain ManThelma and LouiseMan of SteelThe Thin Red LineThe Dark KnightInterstellar and Inception - still astound. Everyone in the auditorium and I knew that this was going to be an experience that we will never forget and cherish for the rest of our lives. Throughout the entire performance, the audience and I were constantly cheering and yelling "Yeah!", "Oh my God!" and "Awesome!" There was a dazzling array of talent on display here, and the event surely has its memorable moments. This was truly an event where people from all over Auckland from different ethic and social backgrounds were brought together by music. In addition, I banged my head and tapped my foot throughout the performance to my favourite pieces. I was overwhelmed beyond imagination by the sheer power of Mr. Zimmer and his ensemble. Some people may complain about the ear-deafening noise, but in the words of Sir Ridley Scott: "I don't really like music quiet, I don't like it when people say: You shouldn't hear the music in a movie, that's total bullshit." 

The concert is our best insight to a legendary giant who has given us some of the greatest contribution to cinema. This labour of love, one of the most awe-inspiring performances, presents and continues to preserve the immense body of work that prevails in the pop culture zeitgeist for the past few decades and will continue to do so for many years to come. Mr. Zimmer said: "Movies' genres have become clichés; they are either action, drama, or comedy. You don't frequently see movies that are provocative. I think films that force the audience to experience something new are the most important. The music helps push those limits." And as I said to Mr. Zimmer, it was an honour to meet him and thanked him for the performance and his contribution to cinema. Finally, note to self: Definitely need to go to more film concerts.

Simon says Hans Zimmer Revealed receives:

Wednesday, 26 April 2017

Film Review: "Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2" (2017).

"You only get one chance to save the galaxy twice." So here comes Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. This superhero film based on the titular Marvel Comics superhero team, written and directed by James Gunn and produced by Marvel Studios. It is the sequel to 2014's Guardians of the Galaxy and the fifteenth film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The film continues the team's adventures as they traverse the outer reaches of the cosmos. The Guardians must fight to keep their newfound family together as they unravel the mysteries of Peter Quill's true parentage.

At the 2014 San Diego Comic-Con International, a sequel was officially announced a before the theatrical release of the first film, with a July 2017 release date. Gunn's and the cast were conformed to return in July 2014 October 2014. During the writing process, Gunn proposed the idea of Ego the Living Planet being Star-Lord's father. Unfortunately, Marvel did not have the rights to Ego, the rights were owned by 20th Century Fox. Since Gunn did not have any other characters in mind for Star-Lord's father, he had to ask Fox if he could use the character. Fortunately, Fox agreed to let Marvel have Ego, in return for Fox having more creative freedom regarding the character of Negasonic Teenage Warhead for Deadpool (2016). In addition, in May 2015, Gunn wanted to include the characters of Mantis and Adam Warlock. Ultimately, the latter was removed from the final draft. In June, the title of the film was confirmed to be Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. In October, Pom Klementieff was cast as Mantis, and Matthew McConaughey was offered the role of Ego, but he eventually passed on the role. Gary Oldman, Viggo Mortensen, Christoph Waltz, Christopher Plummer, Max von Sydow, and Liam Neeson were considered for the role before Kurt Russell entered negotiations. Principal photography began in February 2016 at Pinewood Atlanta Studios in Fayette County, Georgia, and wrapped in June 2016. This was the first film to utilise the RED WEAPON 8K digital camera. It is the digital equivalent to VistaVision, a higher definition 35mm format developed in the 1950s. At San Diego Comic-Con 2016, Russell and Debicki were confirmed for the roles of Ego and Ayesha. Sylvester Stallone was also confirmed to be in the film. In January 2017, Gunn stated that the film contains five mid- and post-credits scenes, all of which were written and directed by him.

Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Vin Diesel, Bradley Cooper, Michael Rooker, Karen Gillan and Sean Gunn reprised their roles. The film also stars Pom Klementieff, Elizabeth Debicki, Chris Sullivan, Sylvester Stallone, and Kurt Russell. The performances in this film, new and old, did anything but kill the film thanks to the cast's impressive collective charisma. However, the film's stand-out performance was from none other than Rooker who made Yondu everybody's new favourite character.

It may not live up to its unexpected predecessor, but Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 still offers plenty of the humour and high-stakes action that fans have come to expect. In the end, the film delivers the goods - action, otherworldly adventure and humour, of course.

Simons says Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 receives:

Also, see my review for Guardians of the Galaxy and Doctor Strange.

Sunday, 9 April 2017

Film Review: "The Salesman" (فروشنده‎) (2016).

Charles Bramesco of Rolling Stone called it "Gripping". Bilge Ebril of Village Voice called it "An expertly made suspenseful film". This is The Salesman (فروشنده‎). This Iranian drama film directed and written by Asghar Farhadi. The film centres on a married couple who are both participating in a production of "Death of a Salesman". During the production, the wife is assaulted in her new home, which leaves the husband to identify the perpetrator over his wife's objections, while she struggles to cope with post-trauma stress.

Long before it went into production, the story for the film gestated in the mind of director Farhadi for years. The purpose for its long gestation was due to the lack of characterisation Farhadi needed for his two main characters. This was finally solved when he conceived the idea of having his main characters being stage actors. Part of this decision owed to Farhadi's own background in the theatre, and his desire to re-immerse himself in that atmosphere. He also felt actors had to think of themselves as other people and create empathy, and his male protagonist would be forced to feel empathy for another man. Searching for a play within the film, Farhadi researched the work of Jean-Paul Sartre and Henrik Ibsen before finally settling on Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman, which he described as "a gift for me". In Miller's play and his script, Farhadi said he found parallel themes of "humiliation", and also compared the relationship between his characters Rana and Emad to that of Linda and Willy Loman. More symbolism was added with the crumbling buildings, which Farhadi said represented crumbling relationships. Farhadi was so taken by this project that he decided to stop his ongoing project in Spain with Penelope Cruz and return to Iran to make the film. He decided to cast and collaborate again with Shahab Hosseini in the lead role, marking their third collaboration. During early production, Farhadi posted an ad on social media asking people to send in short video auditions of themselves. Thousands of Iranians participated in this call for auditions with the hope of appearing in Farhadi's latest film. Other actors from Farhadi's 2011 film A Separation are also cast, and he explained the connection was because his films are about young couples. 

The film was the official submission for the 'Best Foreign Language Film' category of the 89th Academy Awards for Iran in 2017. The film ultimately won, making the film Farhadi's second nomination and win for Best Foreign Language Film in the Academy Awards: the first one was A Separation. However, under U.S. Executive Order 13769 mandated by President Donald Trump, Farhadi was not there to receive the award. A few days after the Oscar nominations were announced, Farhadi made a statement that he would not attend the ceremony due to Donald Trump's executive order barring Iranians from entering in U.S. Farhadi then announced that Anousheh Ansari, known as the first female space tourist, and Firouz Naderi, a former director of Solar System Exploration at NASA – would represent him at the Oscars ceremony. When the Oscar was awarded to the film, Anousheh Ansari read his prepared statement during the acceptance speech: "I'm sorry I'm not with you tonight. My absence is out of respect for the people of my country and those of the other six nations who have been disrespected by the inhumane law that bans entry of immigrants to the U.S. Dividing the world into the us and our enemies categories creates fear, a deceitful justification for aggression and war. These wars prevent democracy and human rights in countries which themselves have been victims of aggression. Filmmakers can turn their cameras to capture shared human qualities and break stereotypes of various nationalities and religions. They create empathy between us and others - an empathy that we need today more than ever."

The film stars Taraneh Alidoosti, Shahab Hosseini, Babak Karimi and Farid Sajadhosseini. As in all the director's work, the cast is given top consideration for their realistic acting results and unusual depth of characterization.

Morally complex, suspenseful, dense and consistently involving, The Salesman captures the messiness of a dissolving relationship during its dark descent into "justice" with keen insight and searing intensity. Just when it seemed impossible for Farhadi to top A Seperation, this film comes along to prove the contrary. Just the former, the film is simple on a narrative level yet morally, psychologically and socially complex, it succeeds in bringing Iranian society further into focus in today's troubling geo-political climate in a way few other films have done. The provocative plot further casts a revealing light on contemporary Iranian society, taking on issues of gender, class, justice and honour as a married couple, in the midst of upheaval, winds up in conflict with a morally complex one. Showing a control of investigative pacing that recalls classic Hitchcock and a feel for ethical nuance that is all his own, Farhadi has hit upon a story that is not only about love, family and justice in today's Iran, but that raises complex and globally relevant questions of responsibility, of the subjectivity and contingency of "seeking justice", and of how thin the line can be between justice and revenge – especially of the male variety. It is a shattering experience, fueled by Farhadi's expert direction and his superb cast that includes Alidoosti and Hosseini. You cannot watch the film without feeling kinship with the characters and admitting their decency as well as their mistakes. The Hollywood films made this year that deal with the internal detail and difficulty of family life are airy, pretty and affluent compared with this film. With the best will in the world, Hollywood's finest cannot discard their aura of stardom, yet the actors in the Iranian film seem caught in their characters’ traps. Even though the film's tense, fast-moving editing from start to finish can not help the film's somewhat draining over two hour runtime, it is still one of the best films of the year.

Simon says The Salesman receives:

Saturday, 8 April 2017

Film Review: "The Boss Baby" (2017).

"Born Leader"
and "He's the Boss" perfectly describe The Boss Baby. This computer-animated comedy film directed by Tom McGrath, adapted by Michael McCullers, loosely based on the 2010 picture book of the same name written and illustrated by Marla Frazee, and produced by DreamWorks Animation. The arrival of a new baby impacts wildly imaginative seven year old Tim Templeton and his family. But the baby just happens to be a secret agent in the secret war between babies and puppies.

In mid June 2014, DreamWorks Animation announced plans to release their 34th animated feature film on a March 18th, 2016 release date, with Madagascar series (2005, 08, 12) and Megamind (2010) director Tom McGrath hired to direct with a script penned by Michael McCullers. By June 2016, Alec Baldwin, Miles Christopher Bakshi, Jimmy Kimmel, Lisa Kudrow, Kevin Spacey and Patton Oswalt were announced to have joined the film. But Spacey and Oswalt were ultimately replaced by Steve Buscemi and Tobey Maguire. The film marks Baldwin's third animated film for DreamWorks after Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa and Rise of the Guardians (2012), and his second collaboration with Maguire after Cats & Dogs (2001). In December 2014, it was announced that the film had been removed from DreamWorks' schedule and was replaced with Kung Fu Panda 3 (2016), with a new release date yet to be announced. In January 2015, the film was given a new release date of January 13th, 2017, only to be pushed back further to a March 10th, 2017 release date in September 2015, taking over the original Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie (2017) release date, and finally pushed back to its March 31st, 2017 release date.

The film stars the voices of Baldwin, Bakshi, Buscemi, Kimmel, Kudrow and Maguire. The cast gave terrific and entertaining performances. Baldwin gave an entertaining performance, even though his demeanour was more gangster, at times, rather than corporate agent. Bakshi gave a boyish performance that perfectly captured the spirit of a seven year old and their attitude towards having a younger sibling. There's a nice, snappy playfulness in the rapport between Baldwin and engaging newcomer Bakshi. That lively, sibling rivalry vibe is very reminiscent to Woody and Buzz's relationship in Toy Story. Buscemi gave a fine performance despite being somewhat of a retread of his previous roles of a similar nature. Kimmel and Kudrow made a nice pair as the parents. Finally, Maguire did the best he could despite being relegated to a less-than-impressive narrator role.

Colourful animation and a charming cast helped The Boss Baby achieve success, but scattershot gags and a confused, hyperactively unspooled plot kept it from truly achieving its mission. Whoever now is running DreamWorks Animation appears to be allowing the studio to steer off-course, and that has resulted in a film that is preposterous and wasn't quite sure what it wanted to be. The film started off well enough and delivered a few laughs along the way, but in the end it didn't quite live up to its studio's legacy.

Simon says The Boss Baby receives: